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Re-use of social and healthcare facilities contributes to the vitality of municipalities

The research group on social and health care construction SOTERA is working on a project to evaluate the use of space resources for new uses, with an emphasis on resource wisdom, planned renovation and reuse.
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Finland has a number of disused or underused social and health care facilities that could be re-used in a resource-wise manner. Aalto University's Social and Health Care Construction Research Group SOTERA and Ira Verma have studied the potential for reuse of these facilities from an architectural and spatial design perspective in the short and long term. Kaks, the Foundation for the Development of Municipal Areas, published a report based on this recently funded work in its publication series entitled Sote-tilojen käyttötarkoituksen muutos – käytöstä poistuvien tilojen kehittäminen resurssiviisaasti, "Change of use of SOTE premises - resource-wise development of disused premises". 

"Many social and health care facilities are hybrid in nature, containing work, service and living spaces. These spaces can be used for work, leisure and accommodation purposes, among others. Shared use can improve efficiency and promote local activity," says the report. 

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Students redesign Johannisberg

Markku Partanen, an architect for the city of Porvoo, says the city has social welfare properties for which no new use has yet been decided. For example, he cites the Johannisberg area of Porvoo, where there are protected buildings and service housing. Mr Partanen stresses that the aim is not to create a "ghetto for the elderly" in the area, but to design the area as a multi-generational residential area.

 
 

One concrete example is the Syreeni service home in the Johannisberg area, which was taken out of social use in 2018. The building is currently rented on a temporary basis to a private accommodation company. The research project worked with the City of Porvoo and students from Aalto University to identify opportunities, potential partners and users for the development of the building.

Antti Pirinen, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Architecture, presented the student groups' reuse concepts. The students have developed alternative future scenarios for the building and designed sensible reuse solutions based on these scenarios. 

"The concepts are based on combining different functions. The versatility and flexibility of the spaces have been increased with relatively few structural changes," says Pirinen.

Laura Raikamo's thesis deals with the accessibility renovation of an old building in the context of new construction. Aaron Vartiainen's thesis is on the typology of spaces, where the reuse of social and healthcare facilities opens up opportunities for accommodation, education, civic and cultural activities, etc.

"The building's facilities are accessible, which has proved to be a strength for accommodation," says Pirinen.

The Johannisberg site is envisaged as a community centre for community housing, a multi-purpose community space for residents, and temporary accommodation for foreign workers. 

The potential for re-use of the space should be explored in cooperation 


Demographic changes and fluctuations in social and health care needs affect the need for services. Senior scientist Ira Verma stresses that the value of buildings is not just technical, and that there is great potential for municipalities to reuse buildings in good condition. 

"If municipalities identify space needs, using existing space is the most sustainable solution," she says.

Changes of use may still require, for example, energy efficiency improvements. The quality of facilities also plays a major role in user satisfaction, and any modifications and renovations should be designed with user-friendliness and flexibility in mind.

Professor Laura Arpiainen stresses that local authorities should take into account the needs and resources of the local community when making decisions. 

"Improving the quality and multifunctionality of municipally owned facilities can promote local activity and community spirit," she says. 

Municipalities have other vacant or under-used properties, such as schools and municipal halls, in addition to their social and healthcare properties.  These should be reviewed as a whole. The possible reuse and change of use of these buildings requires extensive cooperation with the municipality's various departments, local residents and operators. This will ensure that changes to facilities effectively serve local needs and contribute to the vitality of municipalities.

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